Ellis Goodwin, F1 Correspondent
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton outlasted a strong charge by Lotus today to win a closely contested FIA Formula One Hungarian Grand Prix.
Hamilton and McLaren conducted a nearly perfect race, leading all but five of the day's 69 laps. He was challenged at times by the Lotus cars of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean, who finished second and third. This victory marks Hamilton's second race win of the season and McLaren's third. It is also his third win at the Hungaroring, tying his idol Ayrton Senna.
“It was a really enjoyable race – but it wasn’t at all easy. In fact, I reckon that it was one of the toughest races I’ve ever driven – but, guess what, I’ll savor it all the more for that," Hamilton said. "I was under a lot of pressure throughout all 69 laps. First, Romain [Grosjean] and then Kimi [Raikkonen] were right behind me, all the way through, and I had to look after my tyres without letting my pace drop, which was pretty tricky at times. It isn’t a static situation when a race goes like that. The feel of the car is changing all the time. You get different messages from the tires with every lap. But they lasted – I managed to make them last."
Grosjean was behind Hamilton until the second round of pit stops which cycled through at lap 46. As Grosjean left the pits Raikkonen screamed down the front straight and made a daring maneuver to pass his teammate in turn one. The two Lotus cars went side-by-side and may have even grazed side pods, but Grosjean gave way and Raikkonen ended up on top.
"At the end, I'm very happy for the team because it’s not a track that suits us on paper," Lotus' Eric Boullier said. "Being in a position to win in Hungary is promising for the rest of the season."
The Finn made a strong push to catch Hamilton. Within five laps Raikkonen had cut Hamilton's lead by almost 1.5s. With just over 10 laps remaining Raikkonen was less than one second behind the McLaren driver. However, he never could catch the Briton.
"We came second, it's not enough," Raikkonen said. "We had some problems with the Kers in the first lap which didn't help us, but we had good speed. We keep trying the next race to win, we keep saying that but at least we are up there all the time. I take the second place, but for sure we are not happy until we win."
This was Lotus' second double podium finish of 2012. Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel finished in fourth, but also was gaining at the end of the race. In the closing laps Vettel set the fastest lap of the race, but couldn't get past Grosjean.
“I think our overall speed was better than the actual result we got today," Vettel said. "The tires were not too bad at the end, but we thought that we should try something, the tires on the cars in front could have fallen off, but it didn’t happen.”
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso finished in fifth on his 31st birthday, extending his championship lead to more than 40 points ahead of Red Bull's Mark Webber. In front of Webber, who finished eighth, were McLaren's Jenson Button in sixth and William's Bruno Senna in seventh. Button ran a three stop race, which was not the optimal strategy for the weekend.
"I don't think we looked too good today with strategy, especially with my car," Button said. "I'm not happy with the strategy but I'm happy with where we've taken the car."
Button did not lack pace, he ran as high as third, but he lost time on track behind Senna and in the pits when his team struggled to mount a front tire. Ferrari's Felipe Massa lost a couple grid spots to finish ninth, and Mercedes Nico Rosberg rounded out the top 10. Rosberg's Merecedes teammate Michael Schumacher was the first retirement of the race. Schumacher's race did not start well. An unusual blip with the starting sequence caused the German's car to overheat, so he shut off the engine.
After the cars lined up for the start, yellow lights came across the board and FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting waved the field out onto another formation lap. However, Schumacher was forced to start from the pit lane as a result of cutting the engine. Schumacher later retired to avoid any damage that may have been caused by the overheating.
HRT's Narain Karthikeynan also retired when he crashed his car on lap 60. He broke the front suspension and parked his car on the side of the track, which brought out a yellow flag in sector one. The caution flag may have been a factor in Raikkonen's failed charge during the late stages of the race.
Williams' Pastor Maldonado continued his string of on track incidents in Hungary. The Venezuelan has made contact with other racers in five of the last six races since winning in Barcelona. Maldonado bumped Force India's Paul di Resta on lap 47 punting him off track. Stewards immediately investigated the incident and dealt Maldonado a drive through penalty. Maldonado has said he will not change his driving style, but the incidents are piling up and outside pressure might force him to rein it in.
“I had a bad start and lost a lot of positions which compromised our race from the beginning,” Maldonado said. “It was hard to keep good pace in the traffic and then we also had to serve a drive-through penalty. I was on the limit racing Di Resta when I locked the brakes and lost some grip, but I was on the inside of the corner and so there was some light contact.”
The Hungarian Grand Prix shook up the Constructor's Championship. Ferrari was in second, behind Red Bull, but after this weekend both Lotus and McLaren have narrowly eclipsed the Maranello squad. Red Bull leads the championship with 246 points, 53 ahead of McLaren, 54 ahead of Lotus and 57 ahead of Ferrari.
The drivers championship looks a little different. Alonso, who has accumulated 164 points leads Webber by 42 points and Vettel by 44. Hamilton has earned 117 points and Raikkonen has 116. With nine races to go there are more than enough points for the field to shuffle. The championship is up for grabs and could go to any of the top five drivers at this point.
It is more than a month before the Belgian Grand Prix from Spa-Francorchamps on September 2. Teams must take a mandatory two-week vacation in that time. They will spend the left over time developing cars and preparing for the second half of the season.